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School superintendents say opening day went smoothly

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BRASHER FALLS - If there were any tears during Thursday’s opening day at St. Lawrence Central Elementary School - either from students or parents - they weren’t showing them in public.

Instead, smiles were the norm, although many of the young students who were entering school for their first year wore more of a confused look on their faces.

But all in all, Superintendent Stephen M. Putman said, day one went well.

“There were a lot of smiling faces on students,” he said.

The first day of school meant vacation was over and it was time to return to the classrooms, but not without memories of the summer that was.

Cole Zenger, who is entering the third grade, recalled his family’s visit to Rochester as he sat in the cafeteria before the arrival of other students and participated in the school’s morning program. That meant having a chance to play Legos with other classmates.

“I went to a hotel. The first day we hanged out at the hotel. The second day we went shopping. Then we saw a baseball game. We watched the Rochester Red Wings,” he said.

Melanie McLean, who is entering second grade this year, went on a different type of vacation.

“We went to Disney World. I went on the rides and the water park,” she said as she entered the school with her mother, second-grade teacher Kristin McLean.

Now is was time to get back to school work, Ms. McLean said.

“There’s the excitement of a lot of new challenging ahead for us,” she said.

One of those challenges last year had been when Christopher Rose handled the principal duties for both the middle and high schools. But that has changed with the assignment of Lisa Grenville to the high school post this year. Mr. Rose continues as middle school principal, and Tracy Davison returns as elementary principal.

“Chris and Lisa met with their students in groups, either by grade levels or a couple of grades at a time,” Mr. Putman said.

He said Ms. Grenville met with the entire high school body to go over procedures, then excused the ninth and 10th graders so she could give more information to the juniors and seniors. Then she dismissed the juniors and spoke the seniors on topics that concerned them.

“Things seemed to go smooth. Obviously we’re back to three principals without increasing the staff, just by reassigning. I think that’ll make things a lot better this year,” Mr. Putman said.

One of the challenges they do face involves new requirements for school districts with the introduction of the Annual Professional Performance Review for teachers and the Dignity for All Students Act.

The Dignity for All Students Act provides the state’s public elementary and secondary school students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function.

“We did a lot of training with teachers the first two days on new evaluation system (APPR) and Dignity for All Students Act,” he said.

They also face the challenge of dealing with losses over the summer.

Laurie M. Dana, 42, a special-education/speech teacher at the elementary school, and her daughters, Caitlyn, 14, who was to enter ninth grade, and Lauryn, 11, a rising sixth grader, were among six people killed in a July accident in Antwerp.

Another student, Angel Sochia, 6, lost her life in a drowning accident the following month at the Allens Falls Reservoir in the town of Parishville. She had just graduated from kindergarten at the elementary school.

“We have Hospice (and Palliative Care of St. Lawrence Valley) in today and tomorrow. We had tables set up here with materials for kids,” Mr. Putman said.

Hospice representatives were also on hand on Wednesday to speak to the elementary faculty.

“We handed out materials to teachers in the middle and high school. Laurie worked on the elementary, but the students who died this summer would have been in grades nine, six and one, so it has the potential of having an effect on all of the buildings,” he said.

Mr. Putman said they had planned and prepared to help students and faculty deal with the losses.

“Some people may be fine this morning and have trouble in a few days. One of the things we’ve learned well from Hospice is everybody grieves differently,” he said.

In the Massena Central School District, Superintendent Roger B. Clough II visited all of the district’s buildings on opening day.

“We had a very smooth opening,” he said after touring the Alternative Education School. “The buildings look great.”

Students in pre-kindergarten and junior kindergarten came in for an orientation on Thursday, and it was also orientation day for parents of kindergarten students.

Teachers had already been busy preparing for the first day of school long before it arrived, according to Mr. Clough.

“Teachers were in professional development all summer. They didn’t just stop in June,” he said.

Their summer lessons involved APPR and common store standards.

The APPR “helps teachers help students so they’re all on the same page,” the superintendent said.

Two days of professional development training this week involved the common core standards.

“The teachers had very intense training,” Mr. Clough said.

The hard work by those teachers has paid off, as Massena Central enters the 2012-13 year with promising numbers on state assessments.

“I’ve reviewed the scores, and they have increased across the board. We’ve had a decrease in our dropout rate and an increase in our graduation rates. It’s a credit to the teachers who are working hard for the students,” he said.

As the new school year begins, Mr. Clough said a new mandate means healthier lunches in the cafeteria. Students and staff are also returning to new pre-testing that begins in September and ends in October. There are also some new faces district-wide, who are being mentored by those already on board.

Some things, however, won’t change, and that includes programming.

We’ve maintained our programs. We’ve expanded the International Baccalaureate program. We started the Entrepreneur Certificate at Paul Smiths. We have a connection with Paul Smiths for Tech Prep. We have Smart Scholars with SUNY Canton. We haven’t decreased programming,” Mr. Clough said.

Norwood-Norfolk Central School Superintendent Elizabeth A. Kirnie echoed the sentiments of other area superintendents - it was a smooth opening.

“It was great. There’s nothing as energizing as the first day of school,” she said. “It’s been a good day. So far it’s been seamless.”

Elementary Principal Rebecca Kingsley started the new year with a welcome assembly and, by the time that was held, “the students were perfectly behaved and the hallways were quiet,” Mrs. Kirnie said.

“The staff is ready, the kids appear happy to be back. The hallways are just high energy with students who were happy to be back in the school,” she said. “The cleaning and maintenance staff did an outstanding job over the summer, so everything was gleaming.”

Students had a taste of their return to school before Thursday, thanks to orientations held in the district, Mrs. Kirnie said.

“We’ve already had orientation for fifth and seventh grade, freshmen, UPK and kindergarten. Basically it’s just going over the rules of the road, refreshing people’s memories and emphasizing the expectations of PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports),” she said.

The superintendent credited the PBIS program with having “a noticeable effect on the peace in the school,” and a downward trend in discipline referrals.

At Trinity Catholic School, meanwhile, new Principal Kathy Behrens said day one was in line with other schools and off to a good start.

“It seems like a very nice, smooth transition. The teachers are smiling, the children are smiling,” she said.

Well, almost always smiling, Mrs. Behrens said.

“I visited with the children at lunch time, four through six and K through 3. In both groups I had children tell me that they’re tired. I think it’s because they’re in a routine,” she said.

She said her first day of school on the new job after replacing retired Principal Joan Rufa was “a phenomenal first day. I look forward to many years.”





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